Sir Alex Ferguson signed 99 players during his 26 years in charge of Manchester United – and it’s fair to say he got it right more often than he got it wrong.
Like any manager, Ferguson signed his fair share of duds, but he had a remarkable knack of picking up players on the cheap that would go on to play key roles for United.
But what about his big-money buys? Here’s how his 12 most expensive signings fared.
Dimitar Berbatov (£30.75m)
Ferguson’s most expensive signing certainly wasn’t his best signing, but nor was he the worst.
United famously hijacked Manchester City’s bid to sign him from Tottenham in 2008, with Ferguson meeting the Bulgarian at the airport, and though his languid approach often infuriated fans, he provided plenty of memorable moments during his four seasons at the club.
His incredible turn to set up Cristiano Ronaldo for a tap-in against West Ham, his hat-trick against Liverpool, his five goals against Blackburn, there was always some magic around the corner to keep the fans on Berbatov’s side.
There will always be a frustration that he could have done even more, but with two Premier League titles, a League Cup and 56 goals in 149 games for United, Berbatov will no doubt rest easy.
Rio Ferdinand (£30m)
Ferdinand’s move from Leeds United in 2001 might’ve raised a few eyebrows at the time, but he was well worth the money.
A tough, hardened defender with leadership qualities, Ferdinand was initially signed to replace Jaap Stam, and he certainly softened the blow of the Dutchman’s departure.
There were question marks Ferdinand’s composure early on, but in his later years, as he partnered up with Nemanja Vidic, he harnessed his skill and became a key player.
Ferdinand will go down as one of the Red Devils’ best centre-backs of the Premier League era, a true example of a player who lived up to their inflated transfer fee.
Juan Sebastian Veron (£28.1m)
United bought the playmaker to be a key proponent of a new 4-5-1 formation, but it didn’t quite work out.
Veron was England’s most expensive player when he joined from Lazio in 2001, but the unrelenting pace of the Premier League meant he struggled in domestic competitions.
On the European stage, however, Veron was allowed more time and space on the ball, leading to many of his best performances.
In two seasons at Old Trafford, ultimately Veron was unable to live up to his hefty price-tag, and in 2003 he was sold to Chelsea where he made just 14 appearances before being shipped back to Italy.
Ferguson never thought much of the media criticism, mind: “On you go. I’m not fucking talking to you. He’s a fucking great player. Yous are fucking idiots.”
Wayne Rooney (£27m)
A huge flop.
We’re joking, of course. Joining from Everton in 2004, Rooney went on to become United’s all-time leading goalscorer, scoring 253 in an incredible 13-year spell at Old Trafford.
Having burst onto the scene at such a young age at Everton, Rooney improved year after year with United to the point that he could legitimately claim to be one of the world’s best players.
His legs started to slow as his career progressed, as criticism from outside supporters and pundits started to surface, but it should never be forgotten what an incredible player he was for the club – and a bargain at that.
Robin Van Persie (£24m)
Signed from Arsenal in 2012, Van Persie goes down as one of the great title-defining signings.
He stayed at Old Trafford for three years, but his form in that first season, in which he scored 30 goals, alone made him value for money as United won their 20th league title.
A hat-trick against Aston Villa in the second half of the season – including the volley featured below – was a particular highlight.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy (£19m)
Such was his huge impact, it feels as though Van Nistelrooy stayed at United for longer than he actually did.
After signing from PSV in 2001, the striker scored 150 goals across five seasons – remarkably only one of which was scored outside of the box.
But that’s taking nothing away from the Dutchman. Often he would pick the ball up outside the area, but his skill was getting into a position whereby he knew he wouldn’t miss. Inside the area, there’re not many forwards who could match him.
His strength and first touch was world-class and meant he was able to pull his man-marker in the opposite direction to the goal and then slam the ball back across goal into the top corner, in one swift movement.
David De Gea (£18.9m)
The goalkeeper, signed from Atletico Madrid, was supposed to be a replacement for the elderly Edwin Van Der Sar, but initially he looked like a flop.
Most of the criticism was aimed at his lack of strength in the air and the fact he was easily bullied off the ball when jumping.
But Ferguson kept his faith in the young Spaniard and he’s gone to establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world and remains at the club 12 years later.
On this day in 2018, David De Gea proved he's half human, half cat 🐱
6.5 yards out from Man Utd's goal 📏
0.24 seconds reaction time ⏱pic.twitter.com/9NSJ0835QF
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 21, 2020
Michael Carrick (£18.6m)
Mr Reliable, a true leader. Anyone who has played with him or watched him live regularly will tell you how Carrick was one of United’s most important players of the Premier League era.
After moving from Tottenham in 2016, Carrick spent 12 years at Old Trafford, before retiring at the end of the 2017-18 season with 463 appearances for the club under his belt.
Carrick’s playing style, like most defensive-midfielders, may not have always been the most exciting – but there’s only a handful of players who’re able to dictate play and pull the strings like he was able to.
A forward pass from Carrick was the beginning of many United goals over the years – and he finished the odd one himself, too.
Owen Hargreaves (£17m)
United signed Hargreaves from Bayern Munich in 2009, but in four years at Old Trafford the midfielder made only 39 appearances.
It was a spell seriously hampered by injury so it might be unfair to conclude the move to be a ‘flop’ per se, but the fact Ferguson allowed him to leave on a free transfer in 2011 says a lot.
In his autobiography, Ferguson wrote: “‘When I signed him there was something about him I didn’t like. It turned out to be a disaster.’”
When he did play, he was actually pretty good.
Antonio Valencia (£16m)
Valencia lit up the league for then-plucky Premier League new boys Wigan Athletic, but few people would have predicted he’d still be playing for United nine years later when they signed him back in 2009.
They almost certainly wouldn’t have predicted he’d be playing at right-back, but having won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and the Manchester United Players’ Player of the Year award as a winger in 2012, he won the Players’ award again five years later as a full-back.
Ferguson recalls the time he got a report from an enthusiastic Martin Ferguson, United’s scout, about Anderson:
“‘Alex, he’s better than Rooney!'”
“‘For Christ’s sake, don’t say that’,” I told him. “‘He’ll need to be good to be better than Rooney’.
“Martin was adamant.”
The Brazilian joined in 2007 from Porto as a bit of an unknown. He served the club for seven years, but he definitely was not better than Rooney.
He did, however, do this against Newcastle.
Being constantly compared to Cristiano Ronaldo is the trouble that Nani always had.
And with this, the winger, who joined from Sporting Lisbon in 2007, stood no chance, really.
But that’s not to say he was a bad player – far from it, in fact. Nani, for a few seasons at least, could rightfully claim to one of the Premier League’s most competent wingers.
But he had the burden of having to fill the shoes of Ronaldo, who left for Real Madrid in 2009. He never got close to that kind of level – but he did match him for celebrations.
Happy 35th Birthday, Nani! 🥳
👋 230 Apps
⚽ 40 Goals
🅰️ 74 Assists
Fan favourite at Old Trafford who loved a strike from range and a backflip celebration 💫pic.twitter.com/h51DE7rYC1
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 17, 2021